Obituary: Ignacio del Barco, Spanish workplace pensions pioneer

Del Barco championed transparency in pension plans’ governance

It is with sadness that Responsible Investor reports the death of Ignacio del Barco Martínez, a respected Spanish actuary and pension consultant. He died on February 22.

Del Barco was considered an authority in his field and was among the pioneers who advocated for the introduction of workplace pension plans in Spain – together with José Miracle Gómez and Francisco de Llobet Collado, who both died in 2018. Another pioneer, Jon Aldecoa, also died in 2018. 

Del Barco was a former president of OCOPEN (Organización de Consultores de Pensiones, the Spanish pension consultants’ association) and managing partner of CPPS Asesores, a pensions consultancy.

Both OCOPEN and CPPS Asesores are members of Spainsif, Spain’s responsible investment forum.

His colleague, Mariano Jiménez, Director of Governance at CPPS Asesores and current President of OCOPEN, described him as a pioneer and a “professional’s professional”.

According to Jiménez, Del Barco always regretted that one of Spain’s “endemic issues” is that “this a country of ‘planillos y fondillos’” (mini plans and funds), he would say, in reference to the reduced assets under management of occupational pension plans.

For context, the largest corporate pension fund in Spain is CaixaBank’s Pensions Caixa 30 with about €6bn. By contrast, among the largest in the UK are the Universities Superannuation Scheme and the British Telecom Pension Scheme, both above €50bn AUM.

Workplace pension plans have been one of the vehicles through which ESG investing has been introduced in Spain, via reforms of the Spanish Fund and Pension Plans Regulation in 2014.

According to Jiménez, Del Barco was working on a project to pool national pension plans on a sector-by-sector basis.

The occupational pension market is tipped to grow in Spain as the viability of the current ‘pillar one’ social security system comes into question.

Based on a solidarity principle, the employed population pays for the pensions of the retired population, but the demographic pressure – as more people enter retirement than are working- will increase the relevance of work pension plans, or ‘pillar two’ in Spain.

When RI met Del Barco in November 2019 at a pension trustees event convened by asset manager VidaCaixa, he shared thoughts on transparency and governance of pension plans – one of his long-standing campaigning issues.

Del Barco was an ‘actuario revisor’ or appointed actuary-reviewer, an independent third party professional who reviews fees charged, among other items, to asset owners.

Such an internal control role is a singularity of the Spanish market to protect clients.

Expressing his personal views, he told RI that when Tony Blair took office, the UK was considering introducing similar internal controls to those developed in Spain. The idea did not succeed.

His view was that big corporations in the sector have a conflict of interests with that. “Some big investment manager firms tempted us to promote their products to our clients. We refuse to do that,” he told RI.

Many in the sector offered their condolences on the news of Del Barco’s passing. Antonio Ruiz Martos, President of Barcelona’s Metropolitan Rail pension plan, wrote on social media that Del Barco was an “irreplaceable individual” always fighting for improving workplace pension plans.

OCOPEN said the sector has lost a leading figure and “maestro” of actuaries and pension consultants.